New brain discovery sheds light on stuttering causes and treatments

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A recent study published in the journal Brain has pinpointed a specific brain network hub that is crucial in stuttering.

Led by Associate Professor Catherine Theys from the University of Canterbury (UC), the research delves into two types of stuttering—developmental and acquired—to uncover a clear neural basis for this speech disorder.

Stuttering affects about 1% of adults, leading to significant communication challenges and social anxiety.

Despite its impact, the exact cause of stuttering remains unknown. “Stuttering most often starts as a developmental disorder but can also result from brain damage after a stroke or other neurological conditions,” explains Associate Professor Theys.

“While these forms of stuttering are typically studied separately, our unique approach combined datasets to find a common link.”

The multidisciplinary study involved researchers from the University of Turku, University of Toronto, Boston University, and Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

They used three independent datasets: case reports of acquired neurogenic stuttering from strokes, a clinical cohort with acquired stuttering after stroke, and adults with persistent developmental stuttering.

Unlike previous research focusing on specific brain lesion locations, this study used a new technique to examine brain networks impacted by lesions, seeking a common hub.

“We used the first two datasets and lesion network mapping to see if lesions causing acquired stuttering map to a common brain network. Then, we tested the third dataset to check if this network is relevant to developmental stuttering,” says Theys.

The researchers identified a common stuttering network centered on the left putamen, a brain region controlling lip and face movements, and the timing and sequencing of speech.

They also discovered two additional areas of interest: the claustrum and the amygdalostriatal transition area, tiny regions previously overlooked in studies.

“People have always viewed acquired and developmental stuttering as separate issues, but we’ve shown they share similarities at both the behavioral and neural levels,” Theys notes.

These findings have significant implications for treatment. “For those with acquired stuttering, this provides a clear explanation. The key issue seems to be the sequencing of movements in the putamen, which should be a focus for treatment. The identified network areas also hint at links between stuttering and emotional responses,” Theys adds.

The new insights into the claustrum and amygdalostriatal transition area offer promising directions for future research and treatment strategies, ensuring better diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for stuttering.

This groundbreaking study not only enhances our understanding of stuttering but also opens the door to more effective treatments, offering hope to those affected by this challenging speech disorder.

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